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"Smart people (like smart lawyers) can come up with very good explanations for mistaken points of view."

- Richard P. Feynman, Physicist

"There is a danger in clarity, the danger of over looking the subtleties of truth."

-Alfred North Whitehead

June 4, 2010

Why Should We Care

Why should anyone in law care about using science and research-based practices in the law? Because this approach has been proven to be an effective tool in discovering how things work and why things don’t work. The increase in our life expectancy and our economic standard of living are all direct fruits of science and research.

Here are some reasons we should care about using science and research-based practice in the law:

1. 1. The citizens of the State of Wisconsin spend billions of dollars each year in Wisconsin on such things as incarceration and probation (over $1.1 billion for the Department of Corrections alone), juvenile justice, child protective services, other court ordered counseling and programs, and have been for years. We only recently have started to look at what we are doing with a critical eye, trying to ascertain if these practices are working or not, and if they are working, why they work. In an era of considerable budget deficits and a threatening national debt, we owe our society and future generations nothing less than the best we can give them.

2. We must ensure that our criminal justice system is accurate at sorting the guilty from the innocent. We should not accept, in a system designed from the start to allow ten guilty people to escape so one innocent person won’t suffer, convictions of innocent people. On the other hand, we should be making sure that we are able to detect and convict those who actually perpetrate crime. The conviction of an innocent person is a system failure, pure plain and simple. Let’s study these failures, learn from them, and improve our criminal justice system. The use of science and the scientific method is the only way we will make progress in this area.

3. We need to be concerned about the costs of the justice system—because of concerns for taxpayers and citizens who need to access the justice system. What can we, as practitioners, do to make the system more efficient without losing accuracy and legitimacy? Management systems that understand human behavior and appropriate technology will be keys in this endeavor.

I am, in no way, a Pollyanna as it relates to science. I see what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico, and I understand the dark side of science. However, in human history, there has not been an engine of discovery and transformation as powerful as science. We are remiss to not use it as fully as possible in the law.

The views expressed in this blog are solely the views of the author(s) and do not represent the views of any other public official or organization.

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